Cycling’s impending demise exaggerated
Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his Tour De France titles (AAP)
In spite of the moral crusaders declaring the sport of cycling dead and buried, one only has to look at the crowds lining the slopes of Saturday’s stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge to know that our fabulous sport is alive and well.
Coming just days after Lance Armstrong announced that he would no longer contest the doping charges brought against him by USADA, Tour de France-like crowds flocked to Boulder’s Flagstaff Mountain, proving that the Armstrong affair has little relevance to the sport today.
That journalists and casual cycling fans suggest otherwise reflects a prejudiced view that is both unfair and unwarranted.
You see, Lance Armstrong doesn’t race any more. His era is over. His last Tour win was over seven years ago and, apart from a brief return to the sport a couple of years later, that was effectively where his career ended.
That Lance is somewhat of an icon and the face of cycling for many outside of the sport’s European heartland brings added attention. If it was anyone else, there would hardly be a ripple.
Instead we have a media frenzy. Social media in particular has gone into meltdown. Comments made by ex St. Kilda footballer Danny Frawley are indicative of those being made by the general public. He tweeted, “Absolutely gutted with Lance Armstrong, cannot believe it. Everyone feels cheated. Cycling will forever have a shroud of doubt over it now”.
I acknowledge that ‘Spud’ is a keen recreational cyclist, but I suspect his knowledge of the sport comes from his once yearly dose of the Tour de France. That’s okay, a lot of people only tune into the sport in July, but to then come out and make wide-ranging statements about a sport that they barely follow not only hurts the riders of today who are doing the right thing, but highlights their lack of understanding about what has transpired in the sport over the past few years.
To say that Armstrong’s current predicament has cost the sport its credibility is laughable. The Armstrong era already lacked credibility and everyone knew it. Armstrong has been under investigation on and off for years and the fact that he is facing sanctions now has no bearing on today’s riders.
How does Armstrong’s decision to not contest the accusations against him (many stemming from over a decade ago) reflect badly on rising French star Thibaut Pinot, Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen or Australian youngster Cameron Meyer?
Events such as the Festina Affair and Operacion Puerto, which saw riders and sometimes whole teams kicked out of races, threatened the very existence of pro cycling and forced changes for the better. Armstrong’s career coincided with that time, and the very charges brought against him now stem from that time, but it is a time that cycling has moved on from.
Cycling not only survived those dark years, it has gone on to prosper. All the current fiasco is doing is dredging up the past. Those who choose to focus on that, rather than the good things happening now, are living in the past.
That is not to say that all the cheats have been caught and that cycling is spotlessly clean. It isn’t, no sport is, but at least cycling is moving in the right direction.
Using the Tour as an example, ten years ago you would be hard pressed to find a rider in the top ten who was above suspicion. This year only two riders out of 198 left the race after suspect test results. That equates to only one per cent of the participants – an acceptable ratio in a war that can never be won completely.
As the many thousands of people standing roadside in Boulder would attest, rumours of cycling’s impending demise have been greatly exaggerated.